On This Day in Trinity House History – 11 June


Trinity House Ballast Office is established by Elizabeth I

Lord High Admiral Howard of Effingham surrendered the rights of Ballastage in the River Thames to the Corporation, and these rights were confirmed by Queen Elizabeth.

Ballastage—the sale of material dredged from the river bed for weighing down unladen ships—was an important early income for the Corporation; over time, the river was dredged to the extent that the Thames became deep enough for larger trade vessels to navigate safely further upriver.

The work of the Ballastage Office required clerks, rulers, assistants, watermen and up to 40 lighters, “the crews of which there is no small difficulty in due subordination.” The office ran as a separate income department, distinct from the day-to-day business of the house, occupied with the running and maintenance of a fleet of workhorse vessels employed in the most laborious service possible. The 1834 Royal Commission stated that Trinity House had moved 400 million tons of ballast—presumably in the 240 years since 1594 when the right was granted to do so.

The Seal of the Ballast Office for Trinity House London

The Seal of the Ballast Office for Trinity House London

In 1818 a riverside wharf and a Ballast Heaver’s Hall at Ratcliffe was purchased for ballastage uses. In 1853 Trinity House set up the Heavers’ Office to ensure the welfare of the men who handled ballast, having previously been subject to extortionate cash-in-hand working practices—“a demoralising system of payment through publicans and local harpies.” These men were subsequently employed through Trinity House and paid fair wages on a regular basis.

In 1866 £13,068.14s was earned, a considerable income for the charity. By the end of the 19th century, however, the lightermen were finding it difficult to earn a living from the trade; by 1893, the Ballastage Office was wound down, ending a significant, hard-earned and very old income stream for the Corporation’s charitable work, the business being no longer profitable after the introduction of water ballast. The steam dredgers Goliath and Hercules and six lighters were sold, and the staff of 24 pensioned off.


Trinity House’s assistance in arming Navy ships is sought

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Navy Office ask Trinity House to treat with Owners and Masters of ships for guns.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s